Patreon is a great idea: it’s a place where artists and creators can go to solicit patrons–people who will pay them to create, rather than pay for what they create.
Recently, Patreon made a mistake. A rather big mistake. And… If they’d asked me, I would have told them it would be a mistake, and that it would cost them both customers and reputation. The mistake they made wasn’t the change in fees (that was a separate, compounded, mistake); it was believing that they’re a “captain” rather than a “president”. It’s a mistake a lot of companies make.
Captain vs Congressman
A common mistake that many companies make is thinking that they’re in charge–that they’re a captain, who can issue commands and who will be obeyed. Companies aren’t captains, they’re servants. Your company lives or dies at the whim of your customers. You may feel like you’re in control, but you’re not. At least not in the sense of the captain of a ship. Your word is not law, and you can’t make decisions without the input of your customers.
Rather than a captain, you’re a congressman (representative, delegate, etc.). You have a vision of how to provide what your constituents (your customers) want, and a plan on how to provide it cheaper, better, and more efficiently than your opponent. If you can do that, you get the support (votes, money) of your constituents. If you can’t, you’ll get stripped of power and tossed off the side of the boat right quickly.
PR is Where the Power Is
Patreon made the biggest mistake: It acted without asking.
If I had been in the meeting where Patreon discussed the new fee schedules, I would have said–flat out–that it was a bad idea. And I would have insisted on a poll of clients to prove it.
Poll the Creators
Pick 100 creators who use the site: 25% high-end, 25% low-end, and 50% from the middle. Get their reactions to a 2.9% fee on contributions–paid by the contributor.
Poll the Patrons
Chose 1000 patrons who contribute to creators, with a distribution which mimics the contribution levels of the site, overall. Ask them what they think of a 2.9% fee for contributing.
Or, to be proper, ask about fees in general, and then ask them what a) they think is acceptable, and b) what they’d be willing to pay. This does three things:
- It engages the clients–both creators and patrons–and makes them part of the process. Nobody is surprised by the changes, and everyone feels as though they have been a part of the process. There will still be some who are angry, but that number will be much lower, and those who have been active in the decision making will help to distance those voices.
- It eliminates the need for apologies and back-peddling. This is the most important aspect; every time your company has to issue an apology or step back a policy change, it makes you look weak. If, on the other hand, you can show that change was discussed by the user base, and you have the support of X% of those users, that’s a mandate–one which your user base will defend against opposition.
- It improves your plan. You’re running your service, not using it. No matter how “in-touch” you think you are, your experience is nothing compared to those who are paying you to use it. Your users are your front-line QA, QC, CS, PR, and Marketing teams. They will be more valuable than anyone you can hire–and more dangerous than anyone you can imagine.
I don’t know how much this fiasco is costing Patreon (the bad press is quite significant), but 5 minutes with me would have stopped it before it ever happened.